Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Utah Convention Takes Center Stage

Now that the GOP presidential campaign is virtually over, the congressional primaries are taking center stage. This coming weekend at the Utah state Republican convention, several important contests will pass decision points.

Utah Senate

Thirty-six year veteran Sen. Orrin Hatch is fighting for renomination to a seventh term. Nine GOP candidates are mounting convention challenges to Hatch, who knows all too well the fate of his former seat mate, Bob Bennett. Two years ago, Sen. Bennett was denied renomination at the 2010 version of this convention by failing to tally even 40 percent of the delegate vote. To win the nomination this Saturday, one candidate must garner 60 percent of the convention votes cast. If no one reaches this plateau, then the top two candidates between 40-59 percent will face each other in a June 26 primary election.

The county conventions chose the approximately 3,500 state delegates who will cast these votes on Saturday. Before 2010, the average statewide turnout at county conventions numbered in the 30,000 range. In 2010, because of the challenge to Sen. Bennett, turnout swelled to about 75,000. This year, the participation rate was even higher, with more than 125,000 individuals attending the local meetings. Sen. Hatch himself was partially responsible for the turnout increase as he implemented an aggressive program to encourage his supporters to attend for purposes of sending Hatch voters to the state convention.

It is likely that the senator’s main opponent is former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist. Other notable candidates among the nine are state Rep. Chris Herrod and radio talk show host Tim Aalders, the latter of whom enjoys some Tea Party support. The most likely scenario is the delegates providing enough challenger votes to other candidates thus denying Hatch the 60 percent mark, meaning a primary will ensue. In a statewide election format, the senator will have a strong advantage both in terms of name familiarity, obviously, and campaign resources.

Utah House Races

UT-2: Eleven candidates are vying for the GOP nomination in the 2nd Congressional District. This seat is partially represented by Democrat Jim Matheson (about 40 percent of the new 2nd contains current UT-2 population), but he decided to run in the new District 4. Therefore, it is possible the convention could be choosing a new congressman Saturday as the eventual Republican nominee is virtually assured of winning in November. Among the top candidates here are former state House Speaker David Clark, conservative activist Cherilyn Eagar, businessman Bob Fuehr, author Chris Stewart, and retired trucking executive Howard Wallack. Three of these candidates (and all five are at parity at least in terms of fundraising) will be eliminated Saturday.

UT-4: In the reapportionment-created 4th District, a new poll shows Rep. Matheson to be highly vulnerable. Mason-Dixon Polling & Research conducted a survey April 9-11 of 625 registered voters in the district. They found the congressman leading state Rep. Carl Wimmer (R) by only a razor-thin 46-45 percent margin. Against Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love (R), possibly the most interesting candidate in the race because a young African-American conservative Republican could quickly develop a national following if elected, Matheson leads only 46-42 percent. The third pairing, with state Rep. Stephen Sandstrom (R), gives the incumbent a 47-41 percent advantage. A Republican primary is a possibility as all three of the polled candidates appear to have political strength. It is clear the eventual winner will be in strong position to challenge Matheson in what promises to be a competitive general election. Matheson has won a highly Republican-leaning 2nd District throughout the previous decade; it is, in fact, now the most Republican seat in the nation to have Democratic representation. But the new 4th District is comprised of a constituency two-thirds of whom are new to him. Legislative Republicans drew the congressional map to produce a 4R-0D delegation. We shall soon see if that is achieved.

Romney, Obama Both Must Contend With Weak Support

Just two days after Rick Santorum exited the presidential race, which unofficially began the Obama-Romney general election campaign, new data is showing that both candidates have work to do to improve their standing within the electorate.

According to the Gallup research organization, Mitt Romney has the second lowest level of party support after unofficially clinching a nomination since the polling firm began regular testing of the presidential candidates all the way back in 1972. Gallup’s latest poll (April 4-9; 1,149 self-identified Republican and Republican-leaning Independent voters) gives Romney only a 42-24-10-10 percent preference over Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14), respectively. Again, even after seeing major publicity surrounding the Santorum exit, Romney fails by a large margin to reach the 50 percent threshold among Republican voters.

The lowest candidate score since Gallup began charting this type of research occurred in 1972 when then-Sen. George McGovern (D-SD), upon practically clinching the Democratic nomination of that year, only polled three points ahead of former Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey, 30-27 percent. As we all remember, McGovern would go on to absorb a crushing 49-state loss to then-President Richard M. Nixon.

Even other candidates who were soundly defeated, such as John McCain in 2008 for example, recorded strong intra-party preference numbers when it became clear their nomination was secure. In the first poll after McCain unofficially claimed the Republican nomination, he posted a 63-20 percent margin over former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the second-place finisher.

Former Vice-President Walter Mondale (D) who, like McGovern, would lose 49 states in his subsequent general election, scored a 54-39 percent Gallup mark over former Sen. Gary Hart (D-CO) when it became clear in June of 1984 that he would win the Democratic nomination. And, then-Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) who lost to President Bill Clinton in a similar statistical manner as McCain lost to Barack Obama, also registered strong intra-party numbers when it became obvious that he would be the GOP standard bearer. Dole was the choice of 58% in the final 1996 Republican presidential poll as compared to 15% apiece for businessman Steve Forbes and national political commentator Pat Buchanan.

But Romney is not the only one with problems. The Gallup data is still recording problematic numbers for President Obama, too. According to their latest monthly presidential job approval poll (March 1-31; a rolling sample of 16,037 adults) Obama stands only with a 46:46 percent favorable to unfavorable job approval ratio.

While he shows favorability improvement over the past several Gallup monthly studies, Obama still is not yet in good stead. Even his standing among minority voters is showing diminishing strength. While African-Americans still rate him extremely high, 43 percent above the national average, his support among Hispanics is declining. This group only rates him nine percent above the national average, down from their high of 22 percent above recorded in January of 2010. Whites have consistently rated him from seven to nine percentage points below the national average during that same time period.

Additionally, even the lowest income level group, those with less than $24,000 in annual household income, rate him now just five percent above the national average. Their high number was +11 percent, also in January of 2010. All other income groups, divided into three levels with the highest being over $90,000 annually, rate the President one percentage point below the national average of 46 percent positive.

In conclusion, it appears that President Obama and Mitt Romney must each contend with his own weakness issue. Therefore, in order to compensate for a lack of enthusiasm among his own support base, expect highly contrasting negative campaign strategies to emanate from both camps as the general election begins to formulate.

Obama vs. Romney – The New Map

With Rick Santorum exiting the presidential campaign, the general election pairing between President Barack Obama and GOP-designee Mitt Romney is now unofficially underway. Based upon polling compiled in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the Electoral College clearly stacks up in the President’s favor, but the Republicans appear to have already improved their position over John McCain’s dismal 2008 performance.

Today, according to a myriad of public polls, President Obama would carry 26 states plus the District of Columbia for a grand total of 341 Electoral Votes as compared to 24 states and 197 EV’s for Romney. In 2008, the President’s margin of victory over McCain was 365-173, translating into a 64 percent Democratic majority in the Electoral College.

According to the survey data, if the election happened now, the states of Indiana and Iowa would convert from Obama to Romney. The Republican would also reunite Nebraska, meaning the 2nd Congressional District, an EV that went Obama’s way in 2008, would return to the GOP fold. Nebraska and Maine are the only two states who split their Electoral College votes based on statewide and congressional district percentages.

The other change that results in a 12-vote gain for Republicans is reapportionment. With the transfer of 12 congressional seats nationally from one affected state to another, the GOP gains six votes and Obama loses six, for an aggregate swing of 12. This is equivalent to the Republicans converting a state the size of Washington (the only state possessing 12 Electoral votes).

If the polls are accurate, Romney is already gaining 34 Electoral Votes over the McCain total. He is still 73 short of defeating Obama, meaning the states of North Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Ohio again become critically important. A Republican sweep of these places would unseat Obama.

Santorum Exits: What Else Changes?

The surprisingly abrupt suspension of former Sen. Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign will affect more than just the national political contest. While Santorum’s decision effectively crowns Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential nominee, several other political contests will also change because of yesterday’s developments.

Looking ahead to contested Republican primaries where a Santorum candidacy would either positively or negatively affect the turnout model in places that vote for president and Congress together, many candidates will now have to re-adjust their own political campaign efforts. The lack of having an active presidential race will clearly alter the voter participation rates in their particular races.

One such contest that comes to mind is the upcoming Indiana Senate campaign where six-term Sen. Richard Lugar is facing state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in what is becoming a contentious and hard-fought Republican primary election. Polling shows the race to be within single digits but, among self-identified Republicans, Lugar is clearly in trouble. Under Indiana law, the primary election is open so Independents and Democrats can choose to vote in the Republican primary. Lugar runs stronger with Democrats and Independents so inclined to vote Republican, but it is difficult to gauge at this point in time the overall size of such a pool of voters.

It is probably a bit too early to predict with any certainty just how Santorum’s exit from the presidential campaign will change the Lugar-Mourdock race. One school of thought suggests that the senator might actually benefit because Santorum’s absence now gives the most conservative voter less of a reason to vote. On the other hand, the lower overall turnout will make those most motivated to visit the polls all the more important and influential. The more intense voter tends to support the non-incumbent in these types of electoral situations, thus Lugar’s position becomes tenuous since Mourdock, as the lone GOP challenger, is solely benefiting from all of the anti-incumbent sentiment.

Another race where the lack of a Santorum presidential challenge could make a difference is in the Texas Senate race. There, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who should be the overwhelming favorite to win the nomination outright on May 29, could find his chances of being forced into a July 31 run-off increasing as the rate of turnout drops. Texas has notoriously low primary election participation rates so, as in Indiana, the more motivated voters generate greater influence within a smaller pool. Thus, conservative challenger Ted Cruz, the state’s former solicitor general, could benefit from this development.

Cruz’s only chance to wrest the nomination away from Dewhurst is to force him into a run-off election by holding him below 50 percent in the primary. With eight other candidates on the ballot, including former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert, and former NFL and Southern Methodist University football star Craig James, a lower turnout might make the run-off scenario more plausible.

Many congressional races will be effected, too. With contested Republican primary campaigns in action throughout North Carolina – GOP nomination challenges to Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC-3) and Howard Coble (R-NC-6) and crowded open seat races in the 9th (Rep. Sue Myrick), 11th (Rep. Heath Shuler), and 13th CD’s (Rep. Brad Miller) along with Republican challenger primaries for the right to face incumbents Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7) and Larry Kissell (D-NC-8) in the general election – the new turnout model could greatly alter all Tar Heel State political outcomes.

The same can be said for the California House races, particularly as the state institutes its new primary system that allows the top two finishers in every campaign, regardless of political party affiliation, to advance to the general election. With Republican voter turnout percentages, now without an active presidential race on their side, probably falling into line with Democratic participation rates, several campaigns – such as Rep. Gary Miller’s 31st District election and the newly created open 41st (Riverside County) and 47th (Long Beach area) districts – will likely change direction. Which way they will move is still unclear.

Much more analysis will come for all of these campaigns as we get closer to their respective election dates. It is clear, however, that politics in a macro sense will drastically change as a result of Santorum conceding the presidential nomination to Romney.

Weekly Redistricting Roundup

Little in the way of redistricting action occurred during the past week. We see updates in only three states: Florida, New Hampshire and Ohio.

FLORIDA (current delegation: 19R-6D; gains two seats) – Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) referred, as is her duty, the new state Senate map to the Florida Supreme Court for its approval. The court struck down the original plan, so this new version is designed to address the legal problems as defined in the previous ruling. The eventual high court action regarding the state Senate map could, in some ways, be a precursor to what happens when the congressional map makes its way to the state Supreme Court from the district courts. Under Florida redistricting law, the state legislative maps automatically are referred to the state Supreme Court for legal review prior to being sent to the US Department of Justice for pre-clearance, but the congressional map must follow the normal course of legal complaint. Litigation is underway on the new 27-district Florida congressional map in response to a citizens lawsuit. A Leon County District court is hearing the case. We can undoubtedly expect an appeal to the higher courts irrespective of what is contained in the eventual Leon County ruling. The Florida primary is scheduled for Aug. 14. A final decision relating to the congressional map will likely occur just prior to the state’s June 8 candidate filing deadline.

NEW HAMPSHIRE (current delegation: 2R) – Little occurred this week in reference to passing the state’s two-district congressional map (the measure still awaits a vote before the state House), but New Hampshire officials did announce that the state is again applying for a “bail out” from the Voting Rights Act. In a quirk of the Voting Rights Act formula that requires states to be placed under its jurisdiction if voter turnout falls below certain levels, New Hampshire, despite having only a 6.1 percent minority population, is a Voting Rights-covered state because several of its localities fell under the turnout formula trigger during a particular election. New Hampshire has asked for the “bail out” – the legal process that allows states to escape VRA jurisdiction if they can show no voting rights transgressions for a 10-year period – before, but failed to see it granted.

OHIO (current delegation 13R-5D; loses two seats) – Organizers attempting to qualify a ballot referendum to institute a new 12-member citizens redistricting commission in order to divert the power away from state legislators, have obtained Ohio Ballot Board legal status and now can begin collecting petition signatures. To be placed on the November 2012 ballot, a measure must obtain just over 386,000 valid signatures from Ohio registered voters by July 4. Upon qualifying and receiving majority voter approval, the new Ohio Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission would assume control over the political re-drawing process in 2021.

Polls Show Utah Sen. Hatch With Varying Support

Last week, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) released his internal poll of 335 delegates to the Utah State Republican Convention depicting him to be in strong shape. In Utah, the statewide party meeting has the power to nominate candidates for elective office sans a primary election. According to the Dan Jones Associates poll (March 27-29) conducted for the Hatch campaign, the senator holds a 62-16 percent lead over former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, his main rival for the GOP nomination. If the convention delegates give 60 percent of their votes to one candidate, that individual is nominated. If no one attains such a support level, the top two candidates above 40 percent are forced into a June 26 primary.

But a new outside organization poll, the Strong Utah Super PAC that ironically supports Sen. Hatch, reveals different numbers. This data, conducted by the NSON Opinion Strategy firm based in Salt Lake City (April 2-3; 400 Republican Utah convention delegates), still gives Hatch a strong lead but shows him well below the 60 percent mark. According to the NSON results, the senator leads Liljenquist 50-19 percent.

While the two surveys both portray Hatch as the clear front-runner, there is serious doubt as to whether he can win renomination without going to a primary election. You will remember that former Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) lost his bid for re-election in 2010 because he failed to even qualify for the primary. A strong Hatch campaign has probably prevented a recurrence of a Bennett-style result, but it does appear that he has yet to secure enough votes to again win nomination through the convention process. The Utah State Republican convention convenes Saturday, April 21.

A Skeptical Look at Maine’s MPRS Poll Results

The left-wing Maine People’s Resource Center released their new survey (March 31-4/2; 993 registered Maine voters) of the state Senate and House races with results that are, let’s say, susceptible to a reliability scrutiny. Since the newly open Senate contest is of critical importance in determining which party will control the majority in the next Congress, it is this campaign that demands the most analysis.

According to MPRC, Independent former Gov. Angus King is staked to a commanding lead in the hypothetical general election ballot test. In the one intra-party match-up surveyed, King leads Secretary of State Charlie Summers (R) and former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D) by a whopping 56-22-12 percent margin, respectively. But, the poll appears to have methodology flaws.

Angus King, after developing some statewide name identification as the Maine PBS spokesman, was elected governor in 1994 as an Independent and easily won re-election four years later. He established himself as a liberal, but also as someone who will take conservative positions under certain circumstances. For example, he endorsed George W. Bush for President in 2000, but backed Democrat Barack Obama in 2008.

King has said several times that if elected to the Senate he may not caucus with either party, but will do what “is in the interest of the people of Maine.” He further said that he will caucus with the Democrats on some issues and the Republicans on others. He will eventually come to the conclusion, as both senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) have publicly advised him, that he cannot succeed without caucusing with one of the major parties for organizational purposes, including the rendering of committee positions. King will also realize that having such assignments will be “in the interest of the people of Maine,” so expect him to join the Democratic conference.

Returning to the Maine People’s Resource Center poll, the data appear to have two principal problems. First, the sample is tilted in favor of the Democrats, and the methodology description admits the result data is not weighted to reflect an accurate political party dispersion. Of those polled, 39 percent are Democrats, 29 percent Republicans, and 31 percent Independents. Considering that the actual Maine electorate divides into a 32 percent Democratic-28 percent Republican split, with 37 percent Independent (officially labeled as “unenrolled”), the polling sample is unbalanced.

Secondly, the MPRC general election ballot test is only asked with Mr. Dunlap as the hypothetical Democratic nominee. But, even in their own poll of Democratic primary contenders, state Sen. Cynthia Dill outperforms the former secretary of state 20-17 percent. Therefore, to only test the second-place finisher against the top-performing Republican and King unfairly skews the results away from the Democratic Party ballot position even though it is they who have the greater number of respondents.

MPRC also tested the state’s two House races, which are now more conventional campaigns since neither Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) nor Mike Michaud (D-ME-2) are seeking their party’s Senatorial nomination. According to the study, Pingree leads state Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney (R) by a huge 61-28 percent count. This finding, too, is likely skewed in Pingree’s favor especially when contrasting her 2010 re-election result (55-42 percent) in virtually the same district.

The ME-2 campaign is expected to be more seriously contested because the Republicans are fielding state Senate President Kevin Raye as their candidate. Raye ran for the seat when it was last open in 2002 and lost to Michaud 52-48 percent. According to this latest data, the Congressman leads 53-37 percent. Again, considering the sample skew, it is virtually certain that the incumbent has a substantial lead, but it is reasonable to conclude that this poll probably skews it a few points more in his favor than what is the actual margin.